Agassi, Roddick should reach quarters
After turning pro in 2002, 17-year-old Rafael Nadal of Spain broke onto the tennis scene last year and had some of the best players in the world, including his countryman Carlos Moya, saying at some point in Nadal's career he would be No. 1 in the world. It's pretty amazing that a former No. 1 would make such a bold statement about such a young prospect.
But Nadal, for the last year, has done nothing but improve and gain more confidence with each win. How a teen is able to beat a dominant No. 1 player in the world in straight sets as Nadal did with Roger Federer is a bit surprising. I would not have predicted that. That just goes to show how good Nadal is.
Rafael Nadal (32), Spain, vs. Fernando Gonzalez (21), Chile
Nadal now plays Gonzalez, who has the ability at any time to hit with anyone on the court. He's one of the most powerful players from the ground. Certainly better than he used to be, but one of Gonzalez' greatest vulnerabilities is that he can be inconsistent and sometimes appears not to think about his shot selection. Keeps his opponents really off- balance because they can't get into a rhythm.
However, after Nadal defeated Federer, it's difficult to go against him regardless of who he is playing. But I know, from personal experience, that sometimes after you have a big win over a top player there is a tendency to have a bit of a let down in the following round. If Nadal does not have a letdown, he would be my pick. I might not have said that six months ago.
Andrei Pavel, Romania, vs. Todd Martin, United States
At age 33, Martin only seems to show up at the biggest events. You look back on his record the past two years, and he has a knack for being able to elevate the level of his game when he needs it most. That only comes with experience. Physcially, Martin isn't able to play 25 events per year. But he manages his schedule in an effort to peak at the majors and Tennis Masters Series events.
He's going up against Pavel, who just had somewhat of a surprise victory against Lleyton Hewitt. But you can never underestimate how good Pavel is.
This match is really a toss up. If Martin is able to serve pretty well and control at least 50 percent of the baseline rallies and return of serve, he'll win this match. He cannot afford to let Pavel dictate from the baseline especially with his backhand, which is one of the prettiest and best in tennis.
Looking at Pavel's year, who knows what his results could have been had he not lost to Roger Federer four times. Now that he knows Federer is out of the tournament, maybe he'll play some inspired tennis and look at this as a great opportunity to reach the quarters. But when forced to pick, expect Martin to win while going the distance, as he has often this year. Pick: Martin
Guillermo Coria (3), Argentina, vs. Julien Benneteau, France
As predicted, Coria has been a player to reckon with here on a surface other than red clay. Depending on how this draw sets up for him, don't be surprised if he reaches the final with an opportunity to win his first Tennis Masters Series event on hard court; his only Tennis Masters Series title came on clay at Hamburg.
Certainly, experience will play a factor in this match with qualifier Benneteau lacking in that category. Experience is something you can never put a price on; you only gain it by succeeding during hundreds and hundreds of matches under pressure. Pick: Coria
Sebstien Grosjean (12), France, vs. Nicolas Kiefer, Germany
Confidence is a wonderful thing, and that's exactly what Kiefer has right now. He's a former top 10 player, who has been forgotten until very recently. Kiefer fought through various injuries to start making a name for himself again in 2004. Only three months into the season, and he's been in the finals of Memphis and Scottsdale. He matches up very well with Grosjean.
Players who have strong groundstrokes typically give Grosjean problems. Kiefer, though consistent from the backcourt, is not an overpowering player. That will allow Grosjean to play his consistent, backcourt tennis, until he takes the opportunity to unload off the forehand side.
My gut tells me that, although I ought to go with Grosjean in this match, there's something about Kiefer and his confidence that might pull him through. Pick: Kiefer
Vincent Spadea, United States, vs. Paradorn Srichaphan (9), Thailand
Again, what can you say about confidence? That's all Spadea has right now. It's hard to figure out why a player gains confidence, and what causes them to lose it. But Spadea, recently off of his first career title, has a ton of confidence.
He matches up very well with Srichaphan. At times, Srichaphan has one of the best serves in the game, but Spadea's return of serve, at times, is also the best in the game. So those two strengths cancel each other out in this match. Spadea is going to have to control this match like he does most of his matches by controlling the point from the baseline. He can't allow Srichiphan to dictate, come into the net and make Spadea counter-punch. Spadea must control the match with penetrating groundstrokes. If he can do that, Spadea should win in three sets.
Augstin Calleri (20), vs. Andre Agassi (4), United States
It's very tough to put any money against Agassi at an event he's won so many times on a court he probably loves. Plus, against a player who is arguably better on clay courts than hard? That would be foolish. The way Agassi destroyed Max Mirnyi shows he's feeling very good about his game. He's a player who thrives on his ability to dominate his opponent. When he can do that, he's very dangerous because that alone is what builds his confidence. Calleri has got to hope that Agassi is off of his game and take advantage. But we'll see Agassi in the quarters.
Carlos Moya (5), Spain, vs. Tommy Robredo (19), Spain
It's hard to call Moya an underachiever because he has won a major and been No. 1 in the world. But based on his game, he should have at least three or four majors to his name and spent more time as No. 1 other than a brief period back in 1999. He's obviously feeling pretty good about his game, having beaten Dominik Hrbaty, who has already won three titles this year. But Moya's got to be able to back it up with another victory against a confident Robredo.
Moya will probably have too much game for Robredo because he has more weapons, particularly off his serve and his ability to come in and attack. However, these two know each other's games so well that there's going to be no intimidation on Robredo's part.
Guillermo Canas, Argentina, vs. Andy Roddick (2), United States
Roddick is one of those players who doesn't get afraid, nervous or intimidated by big match situations. He's one of the few who relishes playing in front of a big crowd where all the expectations are on his shoulders.
He's from South Florida, an hour up the road from Key Biscayne, and a lot of people will be supporting him. There's also the pressure to beat Andre Agassi in the semifinal. So, it's easy to look forward a couple of rounds to potential matchups, but that could be one of the worst things he could do against Canas.
Canas is one of the best fighters in the game of tennis -- proving that in Australia by beating Tim Henman in five sets. There's not an ounce of Canas that feels he cannot win this match. So Roddick is going to have to take it from him. This very well could be the best match of the round of 16. From Canas' standpoint, he'd prefer to play in the day and the hotter it is, the better it is. It gets him in that grinding frame of mind. Regardless of who wins, this will be a great match.
MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.
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